There’s a symmetry to the rise in popularity of pellet grills and outdoor kitchens. Both categories have enjoyed explosive growth the last several years. Yet while they have mirrored one another in growth, the two categories have seen little overlap. Until now. As people begin to learn about pellet grills and the different options available, they’re discovering brands like Memphis Grills, which has established a high-end pellet grill market with stainless steel and built-in models geared towards outdoor kitchens and outdoor entertaining.
The Rising Popularity of Outdoor Kitchens
Over the last several years, outdoor kitchens have seen a surge in popularity. A March 2017 survey by the American Institute of Architects revealed that while the desired size of kitchens isn’t growing, there’s an increased demand for outdoor kitchens—rather than design bigger and better indoor kitchens, homeowners would prefer to extend their living space outdoors.
The AIA survey reflects the overall growth of barbecue and grilling, as well as people’s desire to relax outside under blue skies or starlit nights. The idea of utilizing yard space as a retreat from the daily grind isn’t exactly new—decks and patios have long provided an open air setting to unwind or entertain—but what has changed is the sophistication of that outdoor space.
Behind the popularity of outdoor kitchens are two factors: the desire to add value to a house by extending the living area beyond its four walls, and the wish to spend more time outside in a space that’s welcoming, relaxing, and practical. While the typical deck/grill/table/sun umbrella setup satisfies those desires to some extent, it’s a far cry from a contemporary outdoor kitchen with counter tops, appliances, lighting and plumbing, not to mention an elite grill that looks good and cooks even better.
Until recently, that grill was usually a stainless steel built-in gas grill. Now, though, as pellet grills grow in popularity, there’s a demand for premium built-in pellet grills that can serve as the centerpiece to an outdoor kitchen. Fortunately, there are also impressive high-end pellet grills, like those by Memphis, that are up to the task.
Pellet Grills: BBQ Tradition vs Outdoor Kitchen Aesthetics
With precision temperature control and set-it and forget-it technology, pellet grills would seem to be the perfect fit for an outdoor kitchen, a category that embraces luxury and convenience—popular amenities include wet bars, wine refrigerators, draught lines, and heating fixtures. Just imagine serving cocktails while your grill cooks the perfect roast on its own—it’s the apex of entertaining. Yet despite their impressive capabilities, pellet grills aren’t usually a consideration for outdoor kitchens. That’s because most pellet grills lack the refined appearance wanted in an upscale space and the high-heat capability to be the one and only grill needed.
When Joe Traeger invented the pellet grill, it was as an easy-to-use alternative to a traditional smoker. To that end, it was designed to mirror an offset smoker—from the barrel-shaped body to the placement of a smoke stack on one side and the hopper on the other (where the firebox would be). It had a familiar appeal that spoke more to down-home BBQ than gourmet grilling, and with interest squarely focused in the BBQ world, there was little call for attractive stainless steel models, let alone built-in units. As the pellet grill market has exploded, with few exceptions, most brands have retained that same design, producing powder-coated units that have the rustic feel of a traditional smoker rather than the sleek styling of the premium gas grills found in outdoor kitchens.
Not only did pellet grills look like BBQ smokers, most people used them solely for smoking BBQ—until recently, most didn’t get hot enough for searing or have a direct grilling option. For anyone who enjoyed serving seared steaks, that made the typical pellet grill a tough sell for an outdoor kitchen. Not until Memphis Grills began producing attractive models with high-heat capabilities with an eye toward the outdoor kitchen market was there a true pellet grill option for outdoor kitchens.
Memphis Grills: Gourmet Pellet Grills that Look Good and Cook Better
Memphis Grills has always been something of an outlier in the pellet grill world. It’s always noteworthy when one company in a category zigs when every other company zags. While most of the pellet grill world focused on BBQ, Memphis differentiated itself as a premium pellet grill for the outdoor kitchen. One of the few brands to make stainless steel pellet grills, Memphis offers beautiful well-built grills with double-walled construction and gasket sealed hoods, not to mention built-in models that can be installed in a counter top or island.
Beyond their high-end appearance, Memphis Grills also perform like a premium grill. In addition to their ability to smoke, roast, bake and grill, they can reach up to 700°F (depending on model) and have a direct grilling feature. That combination of design and performance alone would make Memphis an attractive option, even before considering their hi-tech features. Like all pellet grills, they’re set-it and forget-it cookers. However, Memphis has one of the industry’s most precise controllers with cloud-based WiFi—you can actually control your cook from your phone, tablet, or anywhere you have WiFi. When it comes to outdoor entertaining, there is no greater luxury than the freedom to walk away from the grill and still cook perfect food.
High-End Pellet Grills for Outdoor Entertaining
Even as outdoor kitchens continue to grow, outdoor entertaining is exploding. If the two terms sound interchangeable, it’s because they sometimes are. However, more often than not, when people talk about outdoor kitchens, they’re installing counters and built-in grills, as well as running electricity and plumbing. It can be incredibly expensive. Creating an area for outdoor entertaining is far easier and more affordable. Often it means little more than establishing a comfortable area to cook and entertain. At the center of that area is a high-quality grill.
With demand for high-end pellet grills dovetailing with the rising popularity of outdoor kitchens and outdoor entertaining, Memphis’ foray into the premium market looks prescient. While not every brand has been quick to recognize the desire for premium pellet grills, a few, like FireCraft and Fast Eddy’s, offer durable stainless steel models, and Louisiana Grills recently launched its Estate Series, which, tellingly, includes a built-in option. Although Traeger doesn't yet offer a stainless steel grill, their recently released Timberline has a WiFi option similar to Memphis’ and there’s been whispers that they’re considering built-in models. The upward growth of pellet grills all but assures that more brands will dip their toes in the high-end and built-in pellet grill category.